Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Japanese Comedy and Televised Shamelessness

In any event, since ancient times laughter has contributed to the calming of people's minds, smoothing the course of human relations. Laughter sometimes becomes derisive and deplorable, revealing the vicious and inhumane tendencies, but I do not think that the essence of laughter exists in such humor. I think it is an exquisite expression of man’s spiritual richness and is also his good companion, enabling one to have flexibility of mind on any occasion. There is a great deal of meaning inherent in long-established adages such as “Good fortune comes to the door of people who laugh,”“Laughter is the best medicine,” etc.

In satirical French comedy of the seventeenth century ("Les Fourberies de Scapin", "Tartuffe","Le Bourgeois gentilhomme" etc. by Moliere) for example, a healthy sense of humor and a spirit of satire have long remained intact among the ordinary people in France and many other nations.

We should not be so shallow as to say that this type of culture among ordinary people was something which diverted their attention from the problems of their contemporary societies, such as poverty, social injustice, class distinction and oppression. In a much deeper sense, the people must have felt that without laughter today they could not welcome the bright hopes of tomorrow. This is a result of the hard-earned wisdom of the ordinary people in those days.

However I sense something very "sick" in contemporary Japanese comedy. I have not had many opportunities to watch comedy shows on TV lately, but as far as what I myself have observed and heard from people who often watch these shows, I cannot help but feel that the Japanese comedy of late have no healthy laughter.

Many comedians find their prey in old people, homeless people, poor people and people with physical or mental disabilities. They tease and ridicule people who are weak or different. Their verbal harassment is, on many occasions, directed against the physical appearances, ethnic origins and occupations of certain people, and so the term "sadistic comedy" is now often used. Far from the time-honored healthy satirical spirit which spontaneously invites people's laughter, recent Japanese comedy seems to me to devoid of feeling and so repugnant as to be of no value.

What I am worried about most, however, in addition to this negative tendency, is the almost total lack of sense of humor or satire toward the hierarchy, ruling classes or the government. Personally, I am afraid that this tendency reflects the political indifference and sense of helplessness prevailing among the Japanese.

Not only comedy shows, but most of shows on Japanese TV are "garbage." I know that television standards the world over are pretty low, but in Japan they are abysmal. Television in Japan persistently downgrades the sacred and celebrates the profanes. Television, the real "opium of the people," has become both a symptom and a cause of the malaise of apathy, materialism and triviality currently troubling society.

Unfortunately, the viewing public -- generally poor "brains" and poor critics -- accept it all, as if to say, "If it’s on TV, it must be OK." This is dangerous.

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